Page 101 - Foreign Service Journal - December 2012

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
DECEMBER 2012
101
REFLECTIONS
Finding Home
BY AMANDA GARDNER
T
he Albuquerque jail is as far west
as you can go and still be in the
city. Keep west on Interstate 40
and go further west on the front-
age road, then south past the speedway.
Go past the city dump and past the big,
blue garbage trucks headed back to the
city, until you round a corner and reach a
large, low-slung granite structure.
I had never been to a correctional
facility before this visit in 2005. In fact, I
had only lived in Albuquerque for a few
months when I started volunteering at
the jail as a creative writing teacher.
It was another new city in a long line
of new cities sprinkled over a lifetime.
For, you see, I am what is known as a
“Tird Culture Kid.”
My father, Paul Gardner, was a Foreign
Service ofcer whose career led us to
Indonesia, Tailand, Australia, Cambo-
dia and Turkey, then back to Indonesia
and to Papua New Guinea, his last post,
where he was U.S. ambassador from 1984
to 1986.
“A person who has spent a signifcant
part of his or her developmental years
outside the parents’ culture” is how
David C. Pollock defnes a Tird Culture
Kid. Tough TCKs can build relation-
ships with all the cultures they encounter,
Pollock notes: “Te sense of belonging
is most often in relationship to others of
similar background.”
Surprisingly, in my case “others of
similar background” have turned out to
be incarcerated women and homeless
people. I frst began teaching creative
writing at a homeless shelter in Hoboken,
N.J., in 1995 and continued there for nine
years.
Although I have never experienced
the tragedy of actually being homeless, I
felt immediately connected to the sense
of dislocation these people wrote about
so eloquently. Teir words evoked my
own childhood memories as a rootless
global nomad.
One of the most profound lines from
the New Jersey workshop, by a man
named Patryck Greene, read simply: “I
move because not to move is to loiter,
and that is a misdemeanor.” It reminded
me of the unquestioning relocation that
organizes Foreign Service life. My family
never thought about “if” we would be
moving, just “where.” And sometimes we
wouldn’t even know “when.”
Most of the 1,000 women I have met at
the Albuquerque jail experience chronic
homelessness. At a moment’s notice, they
can be ordered to pack up their belong-
ings and leave where they are—for home
or prison or the streets.
And life inside the jail is no less tran-
sient than life on the streets. Women are
routinely shifted from pod to pod (the
large living spaces where they eat, sleep
and pass time).
As with many TCKs, “home” can be
a complicated topic for these women.
One, a young woman named Athena,
expressed her ambivalence about leaving
jail:
“Going home…if I had the chance
to get out and go home, will I or will I
not? Everyone wants out of this place.
Sometimes I want to stay, call me crazy if
you like. I have my reasons though, cuz
before I got here I didn’t have a home, so
if I would get out right now I don’t know
where I’d go!”
For me, the designation of home, once
complicated, has become simple. Walk-
ing to and from the homeless shelter and
driving to and from the jail, the familiar
ritual of guards and gatekeepers, rein-
forced doors and metal detectors—this
takes me home every week.
n
I felt immediately connected to the sense
of dislocation these people wrote about
so eloquently.
Amanda Gardner is the daughter of Paul Gardner, a retired Foreign Service ofcer who served
as ambassador to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands from 1984 to 1986, among
many other assignments. A professional writer, she works for cnn.com as well as HealthDay,
a wire service distributed by the New York Times Syndicate.